Making Summer Schedules Work After Divorce
“I just want to see my kids!” groaned Joe. Then he whispered, “Is that so wrong?” Defeat and despair filled his eyes as he searched his ex-wife’s face.
Sally gently laid her hand on his arm and offered, “Joe—I know this is hard to believe. But, just because they spend more time at my house—that doesn’t mean I see them really any more than you. They are home to eat and sleep. The rest of the time—they’re gone!”
All parents face the challenge of summer schedules—finding child care, balancing activities, and ensuring children eat some time between marching band and baseball practice.
For divorced parents, the challenge grows exponentially. Especially as children get older. To protect quality parenting time, parents need to be proactive.
First—Recognize that both parents struggle
The parent with primary physical care runs ragged to get children where they need to be. The other parent often feels side-lined—parenting time interrupted by out-of-town games and sleep-overs.
As Sally explained her daily routine, Joe realized that she wasn’t basking in time with the kids while he sat alone. Because he lived an hour away, the brunt of coordinating and transporting the kids fell to her. More, though his weekends were often overshadowed by games, friends’ parties, and his son’s new work schedule, so were hers.
The enemy wasn’t one parent winning more time than the other. The enemy was the over-filled schedule that left family time out.
Second—Set the priorities
Families have to be intentional to protect time for each other. Divorced families have to be twice as intentional.
Before the scheduling camps, sports, or work—parents should meet with each other (and, if appropriate, with older kids) to carve sacred time for each parent to enjoy with their children. Put the critical weekends and vacations on the calendar. Then, inform coaches, bosses, and others that this time is taken. In this, divorced families have rare advantage over intact families. They can claim, “The parenting time requires this,” when a coach balks or a boss questions.
Result—children learn that, in the midst of many important arenas, you invest time in family. Caveat—parents must likewise protect the time. If parents routinely miss parenting time for work or other activities, they can’t be surprised if children prefer a sleepover to spending the weekend with their parent.
Finally—Join forces whenever possible
Even as Joe began to understand Sally’s actual days, he countered, “But, at least you get the car rides.”
Sally glared then laughed, “Joe! Careening through town to get three kids to three places all at the same time doesn’t lead to heart-felt sharing. I’m too busy ordering McDonald’s and avoiding traffic to concentrate on talking. I’d love that to be good time. It’s not!”
Joe wanted more time. Sally was overwhelmed. He arranged to head to work an hour early so he could get off, travel the hour to where the children lived, and began to help with carpooling. Though impractical—both parents got what they wanted. As Joe pitched in, both were able to spend more actual time with their children.
All parents long to spend the more open time of summer having fun with their children. If parents recognize the challenge, proactively prioritize family relationships, and creatively work together to protect these—they can have the quality time they desire. Even from two houses.
If you are struggling to make summer schedules work with an ex-spouse, The Resolution Center offers post- divorce mediation to help parents work together to create strategies to build health families. Please call if we could serve you.